Focus on delivering strong content will sustain local journalism

Black Friday gave way to a black Monday in several Ontario communities as 41 newspapers were traded and ultimately many of them were closed to start this week. While hundreds of caring, creative professionals found themselves without work, those left began the now-familiar task of writing about their own business while wondering what is still ahead.

On paper, it might have made sense to the powers at Postmedia and Torstar to eliminate competition in markets they both serve and give their existing papers a leg up. In reality, it’s left those communities poorer given the diversity of professional storytellers left to tell stories that no one else is telling with a similar zeal and flair.

In this market and in this business — or any business — competition is a good thing. It drives people to be creative and strive to serve better. That gives incentive for customers to want to pick up a product and offers a sense of purpose to investors or advertisers to be involved with something they’d perceive to be a hot commodity. Obviously, there would be some advantages to having a monopoly but it has the potential to breed complacency if unchallenged.

By and large, the journalism industry in North America has failed to realize the value of local news operations and the niche market they represent. While it’s easy to everyone to get caught in the bubble of social media and the immediacy of getting the story as it happens — and that currency is vitally important in its own right — there’s value in the nuance, the context, and the perspective the news media has the ability to offer in the wake of those developments.

One of the most viewed pages on our website each week is the sports coverage. Most people interested in the games surely know the score, whether they attended, talked to a relative, or heard about it on social media or radio. Some would like a good summary of what plays turned the game and which players played well. Some want to see the names of relatives or catch a glimpse of a face they know in a good action photo. Most of these details aren’t really anywhere else. A lot of newspapers have done away with staffing those high school and amateur games, now, though and likely driven readership and potential revenue away. One can likely write a similar refrain about coverage of the arts.

There’s also value in a reporter spending a long, lonely night in a council chamber and knowing which details out of several hundred pages on an agenda will produce news.

Just as they once did to entice subscribers, news organizations must win back their clientele through content. If they build it, promote it, and show people it’s a service they can’t get anywhere else, they’ll survive. If they don’t and they act like they’re already defeated, they might as well be. Support will decline further and more doom-and-gloom will inevitably follow in the coming years.

A good thing is that crisis provides a chance for reflection and opportunity. With this loss fresh in mind, perhaps new voices will emerge with new answers. That fresh competition and innovation may force a local news revival. It’s worth rooting for. As for us, we’ve got our stories to tell and we’ve got a community to keep winning over. The work continues.

-Adam Bramburger